Metal Lesson For Beginners

author: UG Team date: 07/31/2003 category: guitar styles
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Beginner's Metal Lesson. Alright, the best way to start anything is to jump right into it, and since you probably clicked on this link to learn how to play metal instead of hearing some guy talk, I'll just get started. Metal music (Metallica in particular) was the reason I started playing guitar. It's the most technically and rhythmically challenging mainstream style I've come across, and the musical possibilities within the genre are astounding. I'll start off with a brief explanation of the musical aspect of metal. Most metal music is phrased in either a minor key or a pentatonic blues key. The main riff of Enter Sandman, for example, is in E pentatonic. Knowing what key a song is in helps when trying to improv a solo, something I have to do often. The two scales below are blues pentatonic and minor scales (the note in parentheses is the optional blues note).
I. A Blues Pentatonic, position 1 

II. Amin (A minor) 
Lots of metal songs are based around minor keys, but for some reason, I can't think of any off the top of my head. Oh well, just use the next few lessons and you can write your own. Power Chords. Power chords are cool. If you want to make something sound mean and crunchy, power chords are the way to go. Just in case you're interested, the notes in a power chord are five notes apart within the scale. Let's use Amin again to take a look.
The power chord comes first, then I show you a snippet of the scale, showing that the notes (the starred ones) are five notes apart (that musical distance is a perfect fifth, just in case you were curious). You can expand on power chords in the lick that follows, which comes from a Serapis song entitled Through the Gates of Hell. To play this riff, you use another metal technique called tremolo picking, which basically means pick the notes as fast as you can. I'm only gonna show you the chords and how long to hold each one out, since you just tremolo pick everything. The numbers up above are the beats of the song. Every measure has four beats (or number of times you tap your foot), so I divided it up for you.
   1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4

As you can see, power chords aren't the only chords used in this riff. I'll go over the other chords later, but for now, you'll just have to wait. If you were really paying attention, you also would have noticed that the riff is in a minor key (Emin, to be exact). If you did, congratulations! Fourths. Alright, since power chords are also called perfect fifths (or fifths), you should be able to figure out what perfect fourths (or fourths) are. That's right, fourths are two notes that are four notes apart within the scale. In the example above, I use a fourth once. Try to find it. If you saw the
then you're the man! Now, to put everything back into Amin, the minor key of choice for this lesson, I'll phrase it on a lower string. The interval below (the fourth) is four notes apart within the scale, as shown.
Fourths sound pretty cool if two guitars play single notes, a fourth apart. If you know another guitarist, have him play one line of this lick, while you play the other. Again, the counts of the riff are above the staves.
Line 1 
   1   &   2   &   3   &   4   &   1   &   2   &   3   &   4 

Line 2 
   1   &   2   &   3   &   4   &   1   &   2   &   3   &   4       
You can keep repeating that riff until both of your hands fall off. It's that fun!! Anyway, after your hands have been surgically reattached, you can move on to thirds. Thirds are three notes apart. But, while power chords and fourths sound good anywhere on the neck, as long as the root note is in the scale, you have to change the form of thirds so that both notes fit the key. That's the difference between major and minor thirds. While minor thirds are only three half-steps (frets) apart, major thirds are four half-steps apart.
Minor  third  Major  third  
   A--3--        A--7-- 
   E--5--        E--8--
See? In the minor third, the two notes are only three frets away from each other (two frets in between each note) whereas in the major third, the notes are four frets apart (three frets in between each note). The intro to Orion (a Metallica song, hey) uses both of these intervals.
Orion (R.I.P. Cliff) 
 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &  
Octaves are the only other really common metal interval, so I'll go over those really quick with a recognizable little ditty.
   1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &              1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
D----7---4---5-----          D----5---2---3----- 
A------------------  repeat  A------------------ repeat 
E--5---2---3-------          E--3---0---1-------
Alright, now I'll actually explain octaves. Octaves are the same note, 12 half steps apart. Since the musical alphabet only has seven letters (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G), notes that have the same name may not be exactly the same pitch. For example, the open string and the 12th fret of the same string on your guitar are called the same note (E and E, A and A, D and D, etc. ) but one is definitely higher than the other (usually, the one on the 12th fret, unless the intonation on your guitar is way off). Anyway, octaves can also be played like a power chord, but skip the middle string. Octave A's
Alright, if you're wondering why I didn't explain the other chord in the Through the Gates of Hell excerpt, that's because it isn't a common chord at all. I've seen the interval (minor sixth) in a few Amortis songs and an Yngwie Malmsteen song, but other than that, it isn't commonly used. Just for kicks though, I'll include a little chart explaining intervals and how far apart they are (remember, one half-step=one fret). 0 half-steps = unison (same note) 1 half-step = minor second (sounds like crap) 2 half-steps = major second (stay away from seconds) 3 half-steps = minor third (Orion thing) 4 half-steps = major third 5 half-steps = perfect fourth (used in lots of Megadeth songs) 6 half-steps = augmented fourth or diminutive fifth (Slayer uses this interval every once in a while) 7 half-steps = perfect fifth (the almighty power chord) 8 half-steps = minor sixth 9 half-steps = major sixth (play the root note of a key, then a major sixth above, then a perfect fourth above the root. NBC!) 10 half-steps = minor seventh (bluesy) 11 half-steps = major seventh (bluesier) After that, you're back to octaves and then weird jazz intervals that don't need to be talked about, like ninths and augmented 13ths; all sorts of evil, bad-sounding crap; ) So that obviously ends the metal lesson, so if you have any questions e-mail, or if you want to put in an advance order on Serapis' demo CD (we're recording it now, should be done within the month), just ask, we'll send you more info.
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